Monday, May 30, 2022

Ten weekly random thoughts - Weeks 6-8 - May 9-29

It was a difficult stretch of games for the Blue Jays, who were still facing difficult opponents. First, they went into New York where they were swept in both games of the 2-game mini series. Jordan Romano blew the save in the first game and Jose Berrios was lit up for five runs against. Then the Blue Jays went in to Tampa Bay, which has historically been a house of horrors for the Blue Jays. The Rays took 2 of 3, including a shutout loss to the Rays. The Blue Jays then came home and took on the Mariners. They won 2 of 3, and Kevin Gausman allowed his first HR in a Blue Jays uniform. Next, after an off-day, the Blue Jays took on the lowly Cincinnati Reds. It was likely Canadian Joey Votto's final road trip to Toronto. The veteran Canadian 1st baseman. Votto drove in the only Reds run in the second game of the series on a double and plated the game winning run Sunday with a mammoth HR off the right foul pole. The Blue Jays then hit the road for a brief 2-game trip to St. Louis. It was the first game in a National league where the universal DH rule was in effect. Up until last season, pitchers had to bat in NL ball parks. The Blue Jays earned a split in the series, losing the first game on a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning and won the second game on a rare offensive outburst and a solid 6-inning outing from Kevin Gausman. Finally, the Blue Jays had a 4-game series in LA. It will be the one time that the Blue Jays will face a pitcher in the lineup. Shohei Ohtani continues to bat on days he pitches. The Blue Jays finally swept a season series. They sure didn't make it look easy, especially Sunday when they kept trading leads in a game where both teams combined to score 21 runs. Saturday also wasn't easy with the Angels leaving the bases loaded on the final out of the game. Looking at the week ahead, after today's off-day, the Blue Jays take on the Chicago White Sox. They then face the Minnesota Twins. Here are ten random thoughts from the last 3 weeks.

1. The Blue Jays have continued to, for the most part, dodge the big injury to key players (Teoscar Hernandez was the only star to miss significant time). There are a couple of concerning injuries at the moment. First, Tim Mayza was put on the IL with left forearm tightness May 16. Given he had Tommy John surgery 2019, it is a concern he has tightness in that forearm. He is progressing well in rehab and is currently throwing at 90 feet. Hyun-Jin Ryu could well be facing the same surgery in the near future. Ryu missed a couple of starts with forearm tightness. He was activated from that IL stint May 14. On Thursday, in his 3rd start back from the IL, Ryu left after throwing 65 pitches with pain in the elbow. Ryu underwent debridement surgery on his left elbow at the end of the 2017 season. He has not been able to fully stretch out to what one would expect a starter could throw in terms of pitch count. Getting hurt in his second start of the season certainly didn't help matters. Stay tuned. If Ryu experiences more issues with the forearm/elbow, he may pay a visit to Dr. James Andrew. Taylor Saucedo is working his way back after leaving the game April 29 with pain in his right hip pointer. Saucedo is a bit ahead of Mayza in his rehab, progressing to 120 feet. Nate Pearson began a rehab assignment Thursday in A-ball. The goal is to build him up to be a long man in the bullpen/spot starter for the remainder of the season. Pearson missed the bulk of the first month and a half recovering from a bout of mono he contracted in spring training. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. continues to play through a nagging injuries. He has been getting days off and the odd DH stint. George Springer missed a game after an awkward fall. Hopefully the trend continues where they get no major injuries to key players 

2. I want to take a moment to talk about Canadian Joey Votto for a second. He played what might be his final series in Toronto, barring signing with an American League contender for a shot at a World Series title. Given the current cycle with interleague, the Blue Jays would not be be scheduled to face the Reds for three seasons. It's likely that series would be in Cincinnati. Joey Votto has  had a real solid career with a career .300 average, 332 HR and 1070 RBI over 16 seasons/ He won the National league MVP award in 2010. He has notoriously had a good eye at the plate, leading the league in walks in five seasons, including a career high 143 walks in 2015. Many of those walks have been intentional as he has been the Reds biggest offensive threat for many seasons. Votto's final season in Toronto probably didn't go the way he would have liked. While Votto had an RBI double on Saturday and scored the winning run Sunday off a moonshot off the right foul pole, his team lost 2 of 3 and Votto was 3-11 for the series. His career is definitely winding down. He was batting a career-low .141 and just came off the IL for the series in Toronto. The universal DH may extend his career a few seasons. Since the Toronto series, Votto has experienced a bit of a hot streak

3. Another player that deserves recognition this week is Bo Bichette. The Blue Jays shortstop hit his 50th career home run Sunday. Coming off a career year last season where Bichette led the league in hits (191) and made the all-star team and finished 12th in MVP voting, Bichette has regressed back to the mean as pitchers pitch him tougher this season. He's hitting .250 with 6 HR and 21RBI through 47 games this season. He'll have to really pick up the pace if he wants to get near the 102RBI he posted in 2021. His father Dante hit 274 HR in his 14 year career. Bo should surpass that mark by the time his career is over.

4. Let's look at the makeup of the outfield this season and compare it to last season. In 2021, the Blue Jays main outfielder's were Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in LF, Teo primarily in RF (sometimes he played LF), Randal Grichuk in CF/RF and George Springer in CF. Jonathan Davis also got a handful of games in CF as well The plan was to have Springer as the primary CF, but he missed the first 2 months of the season with a nagging quad strain. He did not play his first game in CF in 2021 until June 22 and Springer played just 40 games in the field last season. Just prior to the season, the Blue Jays traded Grichuk for the cheaper option in Raimel Tapia. The Blue Jays traded for Bradley Zimmer April 8th in a minor deal with the Guardians. Zimmer has been a disaster at the plate, batting just .125 with 1 HR and 1 RBI in 51 AB. His stats are comparable to Davis. Tapia has faired a bit better, batting .233 and 12 more RBI. He's a bit more useful than Zimmer because he can play multiple outfield positions. Tapia had a pair of key run-scoring single Sunday. Jonathan Davis is now with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hehas not played a game in the majors in 2022. Statistically speaking, Grichuk has faired the best of the depth options mentioned. He is batting a respectable .279 with 5HR and 25RBI. He was 1-4 on Sunday. Are Tapia and Zimmer better than Grichuk and Davis? Tapia and Zimmer are definitely cheaper options, but Grichuk has been better than those two so far this season. 

5. A big issue this season has been the approach at the plate and driving in runners in scoring position. Last season, the Blue Jays were driving in runs seemingly at will. Also, several players had career years, including Bichette, Vlad, and Teo. They are consistently going 1-10 0-fer with runners in scoring position. You can't rely on the long ball all the time to score runs. You have to manufacture runs in other ways. Odds of scoring can be increased by moving runners over through hit and runs or the highly controversial sac bunt. So far, the Blue Jays are doing just enough to win most games. However, this is a team that was expected to blow teams out and dominate the league. Battling for a WC spot was not the goal. Guillermo Martinez has been the hitting coach since being promoted to the position in November 2018. He has seen the emergence of Vlad and Bo to the MLB. Teo has turned his career around under the guidance of Martinez. If the Blue Jays continue to trend in the wrong direction with runners in scoring position and the team goes into a losing streak, Martinez could be the one who loses his job. More likely he will remain at the helm until the end of the season and the new hitting coach getting a brand new season to work with. Dante Bichette should get consideration as the replacement, given his connection to Bo as his father.

6. Another concern has been the inability to complete the sweep. Besides being a confidence builder, every game matters. The Blue Jays missed the playoffs by one game last season and they are currently projected to win a couple less games than they won in 2021. The Blue Jays have had five opportunities to sweep a series and converted just once, yesterday against the Angels and they had to fight tooth and nail to win that one.. On the flip side, they have been swept once (April 10-11 against the Yankees) and won the final game of the series to stave off a sweep on May 4. In 2021, the Blue Jays swept 9 series and had 2 season series sweeps. The Blue Jays were swept 3 times in 2021. Winning series is great but a sweep or two would be even better. 

7. As mentioned in the preamble, the Blue Jays played with the universal DH in effect at an NL ballpark for the first time since the 2020 season when the rule was temporarily in effect during the shortened pandemic season to maximize the use of pitchers. Since 1973, the AL has had a universal DH in effect. Until 1997 when interleague play first started. it was only in the world series where AL pitchers had to bat. The universal DH should reduce unnecessary injuries to pitchers through swinging a bat or base running. It also means that NL pitchers will be in the game longer as they had been pulled for a pinch hitter around the 5th or 6th inning if the team needed offense and the pitch count was getting up there. The universal DH will also create 15 jobs that did not previously exist. Some teams will opt to rotate the DH as the Blue Jays do using their 2nd or 3rd catcher some days and giving players such as George Springer and Vlad  a half day off to keep them fresh and in the lineup. Other players who are dinged up, such as Lourdes Gurriel Jr., may be given a game as DH. Other teams will opt to use an aging veteran such as Albert Pujols as their full-time DH. The universal DH will also prevent IL stints for players with minor ailments or shorten the time a player might otherwise miss. The strategy of baseball will also change substantially with fewer sac bunts. 

8.  There has been a lot made of the imbalanced schedule. The New York Yankees have had a far easier schedule having faced Baltimore 12 times, KC for 3 games and Detroit 3 games. They have taken full advantage and lead the majors with 32 wins. Toronto has had a considerably more difficult schedule, facing Houston x6, the Yankees x9. However, it's all about winning your games. The Blue Jays have no control over how the Yankees perform except when they are going head to head against them. There's no guarantee that the Blue Jays will perform as well or better against the same teams. That's why the games are played! It does speak to a parity issue that there are so many teams trending to 100+ loss seasons. The AL East and NL West are the two most competitive divisions. The NL East is arguably the worst division with just one team above .500. The NL Central has the most teams trending towards 100+ loss seasons. The MLB should be doing something to allow the struggling teams to be more competitive. The MLB could create a hard salary floor teams have to meet. It might also be time the MLB joins the other major sports leagues and implement a hard cap for the upper limit as well. Either way, it's not healthy to have so many teams below .500.

9. Finally, ex-Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin announced his retirement on Saturday. In 447 regular season games as a Blue Jay, Martin hit .225 with 66HR and 211RBI. Martin's claim to fame was his ability to work with pitchers - although he struggled behind the plate the knuckleballer RA Dickey. The Blue Jays ended up signing Josh Thole to catch the veteran righty. In his final season as a Blue Jay, with the emergence of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the Blue Jays system, Martin played other positions in the field to keep him in the lineup. This included one fateful game at Fenway Park where he badly misplayed a line drive off the green monster. He also played 21 games at the hot corner and 3 games at SS in 2018. Martin was the unofficial manager in the season finale with the soon-to-be-fired John Gibbons putting his feet up. Martin enjoyed a solid 14-year career with 4 all-star appearances, his last being in his first season as a Blue Jay in 2015. Russell Martin, happy trails to you.

10. Blue Jay of the past 3 weeks: Alek Manoah. In four starts since the last Blue Jays Monday off-day, he has 1 win and 1 loss. The team won 2 of the games. Manoah's best performance was a very efficient 8-inning, 83-pitch gem against the Reds. Manoah should get strong consideration for AL rookie of the year.